5 tips for buying a used bike

How to get a deal on the hottest commodities during a pandemic

How To News

Scoring a great deal when buying a used bike is a game for the patient but ready hunters.

New and shiny bikes are good but there are opportunities out there to save money if you’re willing to buy used. Just like a used car, there are great rewards and risks for those that dare play in the used marketplace.  If you have the time and energy to spare and the willingness to understand the key factors in buying a used bike, you may be able to find the best bike for your budget.

And in the pandemic of 2020, note that used bikes, like other exercise and outdoor equipment has risen in price or sometimes doubled in some areas. The demand from folks wanting to get outside and exercise has risen dramatically. So getting a bargain bike is a bit more difficult these days. But good deals can still be had if you follow the tips below. And the key advantage is used bikes are always available. Many bikes in shops and online stores are completely sold out for months and the foreseeable future.

Here are our 5 key tips for buying used.

You have to know what you want in terms of budget, type of bike and how far you’re willing to drive or if you are ok with having it shipped.

1) Set your sights on your target bike

The key things to note in your quest are:

  • price – Understand your price range and be willing to adjust it based on market conditions
  • bike size – It’s absolutely important that you know what size bike you are to avoid distractions
  • bike type and suspension travel – What kind of bike and how much front and rear travel. If you have no idea, start with a Trail bike with 100-130mm of travel
  • bike brand and models that are desirable to you – Identify a set of brands and models in your target range.
  • How far you’re willing to drive locally or if you’re willing to have the bike shipped. Local only at first is good but if you’re looking for a boutique, high-end bike, be willing to have a bike shipped.

A successful hunt starts with identifying the target(s) properly. You need to know the size, type of bike in your target range at the minimum. And if you know the brands and models that you would consider, that is very helpful.

Craigslist, Facebook Marketplace, Ebay are a few of the popular online sources for used bikes

2) Know the online sources for used bikes.

  • Facebook Marketplace – This is a great new tool since you can view the profile of the seller and eliminate anonymity and risk.
  • Craigslist – the proven but risky trading bazaar
  • Nextdoor, OfferUp, LetItGo – A new crop of apps are available and they’re generally for very cheap commuter bikes
  • Your social network – reach out and tell your network what you’re looking for. Good deals can be had if a friend sells to you.
  • eBay, Mtbr, and other high-end classifieds

Also, use resources to determine the value of the bike. Bicyclebluebook is a comprehensive resource that lists the value of each bike. Given the pandemic demand, their prices are about half of what they’re going for these days. A great real-time tool is the ‘completed listings’ on eBay. This will list down all the completed transactions for a particular search on eBay listings and how much they sold for. Look at the listings and compare them to the bike you are looking to buy. A used bike is really worth only what a buyer is willing to pay for in the current market so comparable, recent sales are a great data point. And of course, ask your friends who are bike experts and send them the ‘for sale’ link before you make an offer on a bike.

Turn on notification for your search parameters so you are the first to know when a bike match is listed.

3) Turn on Notification.

Be the first to know by entering your search terms in the marketplace and be notified as soon as an ad comes up. This can be done in Craigslist and many Classifieds Apps.

Venmo, Paypal and cold hard cash are the common methods of payment

4) Be patient but ready to drive and pay

Big rewards come for the quick since the best deals will be gone in an hour. When you see a deal that is rare or half of what it’s worth, the recipient of this sale will be the quickest buyer who offers the smoothest transaction.

Be ready with Paypal, Venmo or cash. Paypal and Venmo are universally accepted these days so confirm if the seller accepts those forms of payment. Cash is always accepted of course but it’s not that easy to attain these days and not the safest when meeting strangers when carrying a huge stack of cash when the transaction gets pricey.

Get a feel for the seller and inspect the bike thoroughly. A parking lot test ride is enough to check the condition of the bike.

5) Do a proper bike inspection

Before the meeting, ask several pertinent questions like:

  • What year is the bike and how long have you owned it?
  • How many miles have you put on it and why are you selling?
  • Any problems, damage? Any upgrades since you bought it?

Find a well-lit, public and safe place to meet, check the bike and complete the transaction.

Generally, get a feel for the seller and how responsive and how trustworthy they are.

At the meeting place, find an open, safe and well-lit public spot and do a proper inspection and test drive. Check the frame, fork and wheels for any cracks or damage. Ride the bike for a couple of minutes ensure:

  • It is quiet, smooth and straight
  • Go through all the gears and check there’s no clicking or hesitation
  • Each brake actuates smoothly and reliably
  • The shocks are smooth and free-moving

Closing the deal

The bike does not have to be perfect but it is key to understand what each of the major problems is. If there are issues that are unexpected, use those to lower the price by estimating how much it will cost to have them fixed.

About the author: Francis Cebedo

The founder of mtbr and roadbikereview, Francis Cebedo believes that every cyclist has a lot to teach and a lot to learn. "Our websites are communal hubs for sharing cycling experiences, trading adventure stories, and passing along product information and opinions." Francis' favorite bike is the last bike he rode, whether it's a dirt jumper, singlespeed, trail bike, lugged commuter or ultralight carbon road steed. Indeed, Francis loves cycling in all its forms and is happiest when infecting others with that same passion. Francis also believes that IPA will save America.


  • jim christensen says:

    Expect that the seller doesn’t know everything about the bike and how much wear it has, normal people are not professional bike mechanics and won’t know that the drivetrain needs to be replaced. it’s common for the seller to claim the drivetrain is in ‘excellent condition’ if it shifts well, but there may be significant wear on the chain and ‘gears’. Buy and bring a $10 chain wear checker tool, and budget for a new drivetrain. I agree that bbb is high, double bbb is probably accurate for lower priced bikes, but not higher end bikes, maybe only 20-25% low on bikes that are over $1k.

  • Bojan says:

    bicyclebluebook is a great resource, I use it all the time. Yes the used bike value is a little off now, but more so on the lower end, its still pretty good above entry level stuff at least in my area. Folks are getting greedy and listing things at silly prices, but fair deals can still be found if you are willing to drive a little.

  • Alain says:

    you missed out the biggest place of them all and where I sold most in addition to craiglist – pinkbike classified. Also, miss saying make sure to check stanchion on fork and shock for scratches (if air shocks) and when was they serviced last – you are talking about full suspension after all and that is the main part that can go wrong. Also wheels for bare spot (dent) or crack in carbon.

  • Shannon Hoyle says:

    When you are buying a second hand bike you look at four things first 1 frame(scratches dents impacts bearing points for play) 2 fork and shock (scratches wearmarks dry seals ) 3 wheels(truness dingsdents cracks grinding )4 rear of drivetrain.( cassette for hooking teeth excessive wear and stability) .These are the most expensive parts to replace if these are flawed price drops dramatically or walk away. Everything else on the bike is relatively cheap to replace so consider those consumables and cost of getting new ride. If they work great but don’t walk from a great bike because it doesn’t shift or brake well or the cranks knock a bit. If those four things are in good shape all else can be fixed and upgraded to a great new ride,it’s just time and patience to get it done after that.

  • Tony Huynh says:

    How about checking to see if the bike is stolen??? Isn’t that kind of important. Just saying.

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